Kickstarter Lesson #79: Cancellations

6 February 2014 | 19 Comments

A while ago I had a great chat with Casey Willett and Aaron Yung about a Kickstarter project they were preparing for. I really appreciate that they sought consultation really far in advance of launching their project–that showed me that they were doing everything they could to make sure they were ready on launch day.

So far, their project, Kingdom: The Angelic War Card Game, has done well on Kickstarter, raising over $24,000 from about 400 backers, so their preparation paid off. But one thing that they didn’t anticipate–no creator really can–was the impact of cancellations on their project. I’ve talked about mentally bracing yourself for cancellations in KS Lesson #38, but there’s a lot more to learn about the topic, especially when you’re experiencing it firsthand.

Casey and Aaron contacted me the other day to share some of their insights about something unexpected they tried when cancellations exceeded the expected 3-5%, as well as the results. The transparency and honesty of the following guest post is remarkable, and I applaud them for sharing their insights with other creators. Here’s what they have to say about cancellations:


pic1786947_mdAs first time project creators, Aaron and I have used Jamey’s Kickstarter lessons as a blueprint to outline the action items needed to run a successful campaign. The Kickstarter lessons have helped us to prepare for the project launch as well as taught us what to expect during the campaign.

As with any campaign we have started to accumulate a few cancellations. Per the Kickstarter lessons, I tried to just let it go and focus on the rest of the backers who shared the same vision as us. This is tough to do as it left us with many burning questions, most of which had to do with what we could be doing to improve. I recalled Jamey’s lessons on the mental preparation needed to handle these and that the normal rate was roughly 5%; so, with us sitting at 3%, I felt we were in line with the norm.

A few days later I ran another calculation and we were now at a 5% cancellation rate. Okay, we were on par, so I tried to maintain focus on the project. Midway through the campaign another calculation put us at 8% (32 cancellations out of 400 backers).

Panic was setting in. I wanted the project to succeed, but, more importantly, I wanted to hear the voices of the backers so that we could know what needed to be addressed — why people were cancelling. I wanted to learn.

Without feedback, however, we were chasing a ghost. The monetary impact of the project was rather small (only $1280). For Aaron and I, it was more about the big picture (the “down the road,” the “in the long run”); we’ve always wanted to build a family of fans, and, this being our first step out in the game industry, it was paramount that we do this right and set a great first impression.

Recalling the lesson on cancellations, I let it go. Aaron, thankfully, did not. Aaron pressed me to reach out to the backers in order to get some feedback so that we could improve our project. I came up with the idea to set up a one question anonymous survey in the hopes that we could get at least one or two former backers to respond. We figured any feedback at this point would help, even if it was just one voice. As a complete surprise, we did not get one or two to respond…WE RECEIVED 22 RESPONSES (and counting)!

Here is the exact message I sent to cancellations:

Recently you cancelled your pledge to our project “Kingdom” by Black Locust Games. While we are sad to see you go, we would like to use this opportunity to learn from our cancellations to see what we could do better in the future to retain our backers. With just two clicks you can anonymously give us some very valuable feedback to help us learn from this experience and make better offers in the future. Just click the link below to be directed to our one question survey page and then click the answer that closely relates to your cancellation. That’s it! Thank you for your time and your feedback.

That was it!

In summary, here is what Aaron and I recommend to project creators as a best practice:

1. Set up an anonymous survey at a site like

2. Keep the survey concise and stress that in your message.

3. Make your message MORE about trying to improve as a project creator and LESS about trying to win them back.

4. Use a few multiple choice decisions that focus on the reason behind their cancellation; include a blank “other” field for use if they wish to disclose more information.

Below is the specific options we used. The items in the parenthesis were not in the survey but helped us to categorize the decisions:

  • Decided not to back a first time project creator (risk)
  • Limited budget and went with another project (better value)
  • Limited budget not backing anything at this time (finances)
  • Better stretch goals needed (value)
  • Not enough KS exclusives (not enough difference between KS and retail offering)
  • Not enough stretch goals unlocked (project momentum)

After gathering the data we noticed that 41% of the respondents cancelled because they had a limited budget and decided to go with another project. I can respect that as a backer myself. There are pages of quality projects that I would love to back, but a $50 a month budget on games will not buy me the $500 worth of products I want now. I had the same approach back in my video game heyday where I would have a list of 10 to 15 games that I wanted but could either get 3 games at $19.99 or that one new release for $60. In the end it comes down to value or, the best bang for my buck. Although it would have been nice to have these backers now to get the project funded, they may circle back when the project is available through other channels. This is also be an area of opportunity where Aaron and I can work to improve the value being delivered to the backer.

The second most popular response from 27% of the cancellations was “limited budget and not backing any projects at this time”. Again, an understandable situation that I think we can all relate to. Maybe it was a speeding ticket, a business trip or, a higher than expected utility bill due to the harsh winter weather. Whatever the reason, the backer more than likely still believes in your project but is just unable to help at this time.

The remaining 32% of the responses were scattered in various categories that Aaron and I feel like we can improve in the future. For example, better stretch goals needed 16%, not enough Kickstarter exclusives 8%, project goal too high 8%, are all things we can work to improve on going forward.

There are certainly other factors we could have put in (such as “game is not what I thought” or “will wait till retail”), so put some thought into what categories you list as options. You have to be willing to put some in that potentially invite criticism. After all, criticism is needed in order to improve. We have received some fantastic feedback from the cancellations which will help us to better understand the reasoning behind them and to improve project offerings going forward. In fact, we have had five detailed responses in the “other” field — something we certainly didn’t expect! I hope this information helps others become better project creators as well.


Thanks so much for sharing your insights in regards to Kingdom, Casey and Aaron!

As backers, how do you feel about getting an anonymous survey from creators when you cancel so they can improve their project for future backers? Keep in mind that even though Kickstarter asks backers why they cancelled, creators never get that data.

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19 Comments on “Kickstarter Lesson #79: Cancellations

  1. Ohh, found it! Never mind! There is a very small ‘backer info’ pop-up thingy if you hover over that backer in the activity section. Thanks for the quick response though :)

  2. Nope. I can go to their Kickstarter profile if I click on their name in the ‘activity’ section of the dashboard. But no way to message someone on Kickstarter unless it’s a backer of your project / the creator of a project you backed? Or I might be missing something obvious…

  3. Martin: I haven’t done that in a long time, so I’m not sure, but if you click on the backer name on the e-mail confirmation showing they cancelled, does it take you to a screen where you can message them?

  4. Jamey, that is true, but the message “Why did you leave this project?” should go not just to KS but also to the project creator. That way such a survey ideally would not even be needed, as the creator would already essentially have the answer.

  5. Christian: That’s interesting to hear about multiple projects competing for backers’ wallets. I’ve never thought of it that way, but I wonder if it’s compounded by really expensive games like Zombicide. Tuscany is very affordable, so I doubt that’ll be an issue. :)

  6. When we had cancellations for Evil Intent, I always sent a personalized email wishing them well and asking that they’d let us know what we could do to improve the KS. From the responses, we found the same thing: Zombiecide 2 released and a lot of them didn’t have a large enough budget for both. This is why we’re scared about releasing our new game Asking for Trobils during March with Tuscany coming up lol.

  7. Jim: That’s very cool of you to say. As a creator, I always find that information really helpful.

    Helen: That’s a great point. I’ve definitely seen that happen–a pledge is cancelled, and another goes up! :)

    Kadian: I hear you. We certainly understand that happens sometimes.

    Darren: That’s an interesting point. I’ve thought about sending out a survey like that to Euphoria backers, although I’m not sure what I would ask that I haven’t asked already.

    bykk: I often do that too. I don’t care much for early birds, but I often hit the reminder button and check in on the project from time to time.

    Tragic: Interesting that Indiegogo does that. I think I prefer Kickstarter’s method, though, as there’s really no barrier to entry to click that pledge button, giving creators plenty of chances to engage and involve backers before the project ends.

  8. If there is a early bird and i am little interested i back and put it on a 48 hour reminder. And reevaluate if its a fair price (eu prices are a bit higher) if i am still interested or if any stretch goals make me change my stance. I usually cancel at least 2 of 3 pledges. Sorry but if i get i cheaper by backing early and have a chance to decide later i rather become a backer and then cancel. I will choice that. I am a poor student. And is looking for something i want and i feel is worth my money.

  9. I would prefer to fill out a survey at the conclusion of every project, funded or not. For ones that are funded, I’d love to have a “Final” survey, after everyone has received their product. That way backers can provide feedback on the experience.

    If a project creator has a smashing success for a campaign, but totally blows the delivery, people are less likely to back him/her a second time. It’s useful to everyone to know how the “buyer” feels after the project has been delivered.

  10. I have backed quite a few projects, and once I cancelled 2 projects one after the other as I realised I could not afford it as I had just missed out on a bonus at work and panicked so cancelled my 2 live kickstarters, comes down to money available for me.

  11. If I had backed a project and then had to back out for some reason, I would love to be able to help out the creators while still being able to save some money (which is likely the reason I backed out).

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